Friday, March 27, 2009

Long Island is the real Paradise Island in the Bahamas

March 26, 2009

It's been said that when 15th-century explorer Christopher Columbus first travelled to the new world in 1492, he called Long Island the “most beautiful island in the world seen by human eyes.”

"He was probably just happy to finally see land after months of sailing!" I thought. In all my smug travel experience, I clicked on to find out more about Long Island and the Bahamas in preparation for my trip just days away.

As a travel writer, I’ve admittedly become rather desensitized to destinations boasting their bluer-than-blue waters and stunning beaches. Yes, yes - paradise. Most amazing sight you’ll ever see - wow, nod appreciatively and smile. Insert appropriate oohs and aahs at particular pauses. Well, let's see what happened on Long Island. . .

Hopping over to Long Island & Stella Maris

Photo Courtesy of Stella Maris ResortIt’s a four-hour hop and skip to balmy Long Island from biting cold Toronto. Once you land at the one-storey, one-room airport terminal at Stella Maris in northern Long Island, you begin to realize that this island isn’t like all the other Caribbean islands. You won’t find Sandals or Riu resorts here; only local mom-and-pop owned and operated hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts and villa rentals.

Our hideaway for this trip would be at the cozy Stella Maris Resort Club, a five-minute drive through thick overgrown bush. We arrived on a late Thursday afternoon - just in time for Rum Punch Night and of course, unlimited conch fritters on the side.

More like a plantation than any typical beach resort, the Stella Maris property stretches from its main lodge and rooms down to a privately owned beach with a stretching oceanside boardwalk, ocean-side restaurant and pool. Despite the built-up resort amenities, it was quiet on the beach that late afternoon.

It was then that I began to notice the stillness and serenity that Long Island offered. I was in a truly different place.

As the buzz of Rum Punch Night began, each plastic recyclable throw-away cup seemed to hold more and more rum than punch, poured by the resort’s owners: locally born Bahamians of German descent who have owned the resort for about 40 years. Our host would be Nils Fuhrman, a warm and hospitable man who quickly began to excite us with our snorkel and boating trip tomorrow along one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Pumped with rum, skepticism were laid aside as conch chowder was served and the smell of fresh fish and meat smoking in the outdoor brick oven wafted through the property.

Bluer-than-Blue Photoshop Blue

Photo Courtesy of Stella Maris ResortAfter a breakfast of German pancakes and freshly squeezed orange juice, we started down Long Island’s dirt roads for Cape Santa Maria.

As Nils expertly maneuvered his way around the massive potholes in the ground, he began to tell us about the island. The island’s main road is the Queens Highway which extends from the southern tip of the island to Cape Santa Maria at its northern tip, a trip which takes about 1.5 hours. “My daily commute - one way,” I noted.

Along the highway, he noted, you'll find 40 churches and 100 bars or liquor stores along the way - proof that religion comes in all shapes and forms.

As we approached, glimpses of bright aquatic blue waters of the Caribbean Sea would flicker through rows of palm trees and villas along the road. We parked, grabbed our snorkel gear and stepped a few meters off the road and onto Cape Santa Maria beach.

That’s an impossible bluer-than-blue, I thought. That’s . . . Photoshop Blue.

The white sandy beach extended for miles in each direction and was completely and utterly untouched. It was as if our footprints were the first it had ever seen. Minutes of silence and awe passed at the sight before our eyes.

The Photoshop Blue inspires its admirers to shut-up, respect it and exist in its beauty and peace for just a few minutes. Oohs an aahs are rendered unnecessary.

Columbus and Green-Eyed Monsters

Photo Courtesy of Stella Maris ResortAs travel writers, there’s an inner battle we often face: the journalist hunger to tell-all about the amazing things and places we see vs. the passionate traveller’s green-eyed monster that strives to keep hidden gems secret, pristine and untouched lest they become overrun with tourists.

Even in the 15th century, I’d be happy to wager that Columbus was definitely on to something about Long Island. And as a 21st-century explorer who has laid eyes on and run toes through some of the finest beaches and islands that this good earth has to offer, I’d consider Long Island a true hidden gem of the Bahamas - and the real Paradise Island in the Bahamas

Just don't tell too many people.

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